Date:Tuesday April 10 2007
Following Blackburn Rovers' 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa at Ewood Park on Saturday hopes of European qualification via the Premiership all but ended. It now comes down to potentially one game save our season!
A season that started in typical fashion saw us languishing in the lower reaches of the table for the opening months of the campaign, but we are used to this aren't we, this is the norm for Blackburn Rovers! A steady, at times rapid increase in form and results saw us rise up the table, moving more than into contention for a European finish.
However, in recent weeks, rightly or wrongly our focus seems to have shifted elsewhere (the FA Cup Semi Final) and three successive Premiership defeats, despite leading in all three has seen any hope of a top seven, let alone top six finish virtually disintegrate. Mark Hughes acknowledges as much, when asked if we could make it into Europe via the Premiership he said:
"I think it will be very difficult and unrealistic to think we can do it through our league position.
"We could still go on from this point and win every game, but I would suggest that's not likely to happen."
The UEFA Cup offered so much for so long and I genuinely felt we could go on and win it. An agonising departure seems to have knocked something out of us, so after pushing hard on that front and bringing ourselves right back into contention via the League, what promised to be another season of the highest order is threatening to spiral into nothingness, ultimately ending as a disappointing one.
Never fear though, we still have the FA Cup to play for, but our season virtually hangs on the outcome of one game now, well the results of two! We simply HAVE to beat Chelsea on Sunday. Obtaining victory over Chelsea is not only important for the obvious reasons that we will then play in the FA Cup Final, our first FA Cup Final for getting on for 50-years, but because this could (providing Manchester United overcome Watford, which with all due respect they should) assure us of a place in Europe next season whatever the outcome.
Finishing the season as runners up in the FA Cup would be heartbreaking but should this be as runners up to Manchester United we will at least know we have the saving grace of European football again for the 2007-2008 season, something that is ESSENTIAL to the club's future building. We simply HAVE to be in Europe again next season.
Failure to obtain a European place will not only see this season ultimately viewed as a failure but may also potentially prove the difference between keeping our top players or not? The likes of David Bentley, Benni McCarthy and Morten Gamst Pedersen may all be tied to contracts, most of whom only recently signed new ones, but the lure of European football from others could prove to strong, so if we miss out on this we may well miss out on far, far more with key players maybe thinking it is time for them to move on.
The players failed to deliver big time on Saturday against Villa, as they have on the whole in recent weeks. The FA Cup has been the prize too many have had their eye on, it is now up to them to ensure that they grab this prize on Sunday, it is now all or nothing for Rovers…
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Date:Tuesday April 10 2007
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